This is Bob Hempker. People often ask me what it was like being on the road all those years. The reality of it is, believe it or not, thirty plus years flew by me so fast that it’s tough to describe. There were good times, bad times, wonderful times, terrible times, fun times, exciting times and boring times.
The road is definitely a unique experience all on its own and many ways, each day is the same as any other before and yet any day can be totally different than any day you’ve ever lived in your life. Surprises were innumerable.
One thing that’s really rewarding is getting respect from your audiences when working for a big star as opposed to playing some honky-tonk full of nothing but loud, obnoxious drunks. One of the things that does wear on you on the road is playing the same 60 to 90 minute show every day with the same songs and never getting to play anything else.
You wind up being really great at playing those few songs, but forget a lot of other things which you could play before and you can stagnate and get lazy and fail to learn new things. That’s something you have to fight within yourself.
The road can be a big continuous party for some from the moment they leave home until the moment they get back. But if you’re really serious about being a quality musician you’ve got to get a handle on this and remember it’s a profession that we have to hold standards for ourselves higher sometimes than a lot of the other people around us have for us.
I’ll be honest and say that I’ve done my share of partying like any other musician has and maybe even a little more than my share. However, if you don’t keep yourself grounded, you’re career could be over quickly. You don’t have to be a professional road musician for this to happen, it can also happen to weekend warriors.
I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world but often times the schedule has been so tight that I didn’t get the chance to see where I was. For instance, we were within about seven miles of the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and we didn’t get a chance to go the seven miles to see the pyramids. So close but so far away.
Sometimes you get stuck with no transportation and even though you’ve got the day off, you can’t get to see something that’s within driving distance. Sometimes, you do. One time I was on the road and we had a day off in Virginia and I found out that we were thirty or forty miles from Appomattox Courthouse.
So I rented a car and drove to it and saw where Lee had surrendered to Grant thus ending the Civil War. Had we not had the day off and had I not gone and rented a car, I would never have got to see that historic site. I got myself an education that day in a piece of American history.
Another time, five of us rented a car together and we drove to the Grand Canyon. That’s the most breath-taking thing I’ve ever laid my eyes on. This is something I likely would never have been able to see if not for being a musician on the road.
Many times we’ve driven within thirty miles of Mount Rushmore and never have had the chance to see it. That can be really disappointing when things like that happen due to always rushing from one show to another.
A few times, we talked the boss into taking the bus to see something. I remember us all piling on the bus and driving to Yellowstone National Park. I got to see Old Faithful and see some truly spectacular countryside. It’s memories like these that made much of the road worthwhile.
I’ve been to London probably a dozen times. I had never got to see Buckingham Palace or the London Tower until I was over there for about the fifth or sixth time. A British musician friend of mine told me to jump in his car and he gave me a quick tour of all the London sights. I’m extremely thankful for things like this.
I always used to love to go to New York City and hopefully get a couple days off. I would not go to bed during those few days. I would head directly to Greenwich Village. Usually myself and a couple other musicians in the band would stay down in there and soak up all the great jazz we could soak up.
Many of the Julliard students would hang out in the jazz clubs and just jam some of the best music I’ve ever heard in my life would come from people who I didn’t even know the name of. Then on the other hand, sometimes we would go to the Village Vanguard Club and there would be name jazz artists headlining there.
I remember seeing jazz greats like Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, Maynard Ferguson, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and other great jazz legends there. We were like kids in a candy store.
Don’t misunderstand me, I am a country musician, always have, always was and always will be. But I still maintain to this day that it’s important to listen to all genres of music that are performed well. I try not to be closed-minded and have found that there are several ideas in all kinds of music than can be incorporated into other styles.
A “C” note is a “C” note no matter what kind of music it’s being played in. Where, when, how and why we play that “C” note helps to define your musical “ideas” you’re trying to convey to your listeners. I’ve stressed this before and I’ll say it again, the main basic two elements of music are the performer and the listener and the music is the communication.
I hope some of this information is helpful, entertaining, insightful. I’m blessed with this opportunity to share these wonderful memories with you. Thank you for listening.
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